The leader of an organisation in a Western European country is being investigated by the national police for the crime of ‘agitation against an ethnic group’. The maximum punishment for this crime is two years imprisonment.
This is no backwoods bunch of bigots led by someone in a white hood brandishing a burning cross. The church is the Evangelical Lutheran Mission diocese of Finland, and the leader is Rev Dr Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the church.
Accused of incitement to hatred against a group, Dr Pohjola was summoned last week to the Helsinki Police Department for a preliminary investigation. The ‘ethnic group’ against whom he is accused of ‘agitation against’ are homosexuals.
Started by Christians appalled at the theological drift in the established church and by members of independent mission organisations, the denomination has become the home of evangelical, conservative Christianity in the Nordic countries. The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese is committed to confessional Lutheranism and is a member of the International Lutheran Council.
The church’s publishing arm issued a 24-page booklet in 2004 entitled in English ‘Male and Female Created He Them: Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity’. The booklet simply lays out what the Bible teaches concerning sexuality, including the teaching that homosexuality is against God’s design.
The pamphlet was written seven years before LGBT was added to Section 10 of the Finnish Penal Code as a protected class, and Finland did not legalise same-sex marriage until 2017. It is noteworthy that an earlier investigation into the book by the police concluded that there was no need for an investigation, as there was no reason to believe that a crime had been committed.
However, Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen ordered another investigation. Her appointment to the position only one year before might explain the fact that an investigation regarding the book was ordered 15 years after its publication.
As the editor-in-chief of the publishing branch of Lutheran Foundation Finland, which includes maintenance of its website, Dr Pohjola finds himself at the centre of the investigation. The police interrogated Dr Pohjola for five hours. He denied being guilty of the crime of ethnic agitation.
‘The decision of the Prosecutor General to conduct a preliminary investigation of our publication is surprising, as I believe the police have already thoroughly investigated and concluded that this is not a criminal offence,’ said Dr Pohjola. ‘It is our job to teach the entire Word of the Bible in peace, including on marriage as created by God.’
Dr Pohjola sets the investigation and possible prosecution in its larger context of freedom to teach the Bible. ‘In my view, the text is not defamatory or insulting to homosexuals. In my answers, I showed that the booklet teaches in line with Christian anthropology that every person is precious as [being created in] the image of God, regardless of sexual orientation.
‘This does not mean, however, that people are not responsible before God for their way of life or moral choices. The homosexual lifestyle is contrary to God’s order of creation and a transgression against His will. If one is not allowed to teach this publicly, the message of sin and grace will be left without a foundation, and freedom of religion will decline.’
The booklet’s author Dr Päivi Räsänen is also being investigated. As well as being a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the state church, and a medical doctor, she is a member of the Finnish parliament and a former Minister of the Interior. Her political party, the Christian Democrats, combines economic liberalism with social conservatism based on Christian teaching.
Dr Räsänen was interrogated by police for four hours. She later said: ‘It is difficult to understand what is now happening in my home country . . . the situation is really peculiar. But I am grateful that so many Christians have been woken to pray for our nation.’
This is not Dr Räsänen’s first brush with the law regarding homosexuality. As previously reported earlier last year she tweeted asking leaders of the state church what their doctrinal basis was for supporting a gay pride parade. This brought about a criminal investigation.
She could have avoided this by taking her tweet down. As a believer in the right and duty to teach what is contained in the Bible she refused. She pointed out that the Finnish state church is obligated, by law, to base its teachings on the ‘Holy Scriptures’. How then, she asks, can it be illegal to teach what the Holy Scriptures say?
During her interrogation regarding the tweet she says, ‘I was asked about the contents of the Letter to the Romans and what I meant by saying that practising homosexuality is a sin and a shame. I answered that all of us are sinners, but the sinfulness of practising homosexuality is nowadays denied.’
Dr Räsänen believes ‘that ultimately the purpose of these attacks is to eliminate the Word of God and discard the Law of God. It is very problematic that expressing Christian beliefs is often seen as insulting in the West. For example, marriage between a man and a woman has become a concept that is understood as restrictive, even threatening . . . It is unfortunate how uncritically the ideology of sexual diversity and LGBT activism has been supported and endorsed even by churches.
‘I believe that every person has the right to hear the whole truth of God’s Word, both the Gospel and the Law. Only people who recognise their sins need Jesus, the propitiation for our sins. We must have the courage to speak about the dangerous effects of LGBT activism.’
Classical Christianity is coming under increasing pressure in the West. Bible-believing Christians are being coerced into either being silent on particular passages of the Bible or moderating its teaching in such a way that it becomes acceptable to the world.
The last word should go to Dr Räsänen: ‘The more we keep silent about difficult and controversial topical themes, the narrower the space for freedom of speech and religion gets.’